Top 10 Practices for Effective UX Research and Design
If you didn’t already know, UX stands for ‘user experience’. UX research and design is therefore concerned with collecting information that will help you (or the team you are working with) develop effective and enjoyable designs for your end-users. This is carried out for a wide range of product types such as toys, stationary, domestic appliances, cars as well as websites.
In this article you will discover the top ten best research and design practices for generating awesome products that will be a delight to use by your end-users.
1. Highlight the goals of your research
This is an important first step as performing research without specifying precisely what you are trying to find out, can result in the process being less productive and inaccurate. For example, you may be asking the wrong types of questions to the wrong types of people. This could result in biased or skewed results, which if used to design your product, may result in the production of something totally unsuited to its intended purpose. You may also waste time by asking irrelevant questions which, although they may provide good information, it’s actually not helpful in providing design clues for your product.
Let’s say you were creating a homework planner for high school students. Without specifying what you want to find out (e.g. does ruled or plain paper work best, are there useful features students would want included such as periodic tables or a common spelling mistakes reference etc.), you may waste time asking the wrong questions and obtaining unhelpful information such as ‘which school do they go to?’, the answer to which would not affect the end design. You may also target the wrong people for your research: if you are targeting all types of high school students, then it would be a mistake to ask only students from a girls school for their opinions. Their feedback might lead to designs that are totally unappealing to boys, which would cut out half of your potential customers and revenue.
2. Define your methodology
Your methodology is the series of research steps you will take in order to develop your final product. This may consist of methods such as secondary research conducted by other people (checking first to see if the results are reliable and unbiased), surveys, interviews, focus groups, ethnography and diary studies etc. The methods you choose should reflect the research goals you outlined earlier. In terms of our example of creating a homework planner, surveys, focus groups and interviews are probably the best methods of obtaining the required information. Other product design projects e.g. creating the best car for pulling a horse box, may require other methods such as research participants sorting cards with pictures of cars on in the order of worst to best. This might be a better method than a conventional survey as with a survey, participants might just write down their favourite car, the one they have at the moment or the car they think society thinks they should have e.g. a Range Rover. This would not accurately reflect the information you are trying to find out, therefore choosing the right research methods is essential.
3. Create user journey maps
User journey maps are an invaluable method of researching the likes and dislikes of the current products they are using. Left to right is a timeline or sequence of events and top to bottom is a scale of interest. By doing this you can identify the best parts of a product as well as the pain points (let downs), allowing you to incorporate the most useful parts as well as improving/removing the poorer parts of the product. For example:
This example diagram created from the gathered information from a current student in an interview clearly shows that annoyances for her are lack of nice designs, cramped spaces for writing large homework tasks and thin paper.
4. Draw initial sketches using pens and paper
Drawing using paper means you can churn out ideas much faster than you can using a computer. This allows your creativity to flow out quickly and not be hindered by software (some things may be difficult and/or time-consuming to draw digitally). As the sketches are quick to do, this means that you are less emotionally attached to them. A design you spent twenty minutes making because you couldn’t get the spiral to look right, might hold preference in your mind because you put a lot of effort into it, even if it gets poor feedback. Speaking of feedback, it is much easier to get fast feedback from something you have drawn on paper rather than having to worry about compressing it into an e-mailable form and waiting for people to reply. Passing it across the table or holding it up to the camera if you are working remotely is much smoother and time-efficient. A useful technique for rapid sketching is to fold a piece of paper (preferably A3) in half three times so you end up with eight squares. A different design can then be drawn into each box. If you only have A4 paper, that’s fine, just fold twice and use both sides to draw on.
5. Roses, buds and thorns
This is a very useful little analogy for quickly critiquing possible designs. Roses are the beautiful, very good parts, buds are the aspects of the design that are almost there but not quite there yet and need a bit more refining, and finally thorns are the parts of the design that are bad, clunky, limiting, annoying and basically let the product down. No matter how you tweak them, they are always going to negatively affect the product, and it’s better just to remove them.
6. Create user personas
Once you have completed one of your research methods e.g. a survey or interview, it’s an excellent idea to create some user personas. User personas are little cards which create fictional people based on generalisations obtained from the research. For example, after conducting an interview, you may find that there are a number of people who fit into this profile:
|Wants||To stay on top of increasing amounts of homework so she can get good grades|
|Needs||A planner that motivates her|
|Dislikes||Boring design, small boxes that limit what she can write down and ruled paper|
|Likes||Spaces to write down homework that didn’t get done the week before so she doesn’t forget about it and being able to tear out used pages|
Noticing a common profile such as this could highlight important design aspects such as fun cover designs and choosing a spiral type of binding so pages can be ripped out. If you come across unique kinds of people in your research, they are usually what is known as edge cases. For example, in the case of the homework planner, if you are targeting people who are purchasing homework planners to conduct your research on, you may discover people who are not students e.g. a busy freelancer may buy one to help organise their projects. However, they are not in your target audience and to focus on their wants and needs would be a mistake as the majority of people buying your product will be students whose needs will be different. This would lead to developing a very poorly designed product and students would not have a good experience using it.
7. Iteration, iteration, iteration
Good user-centred designs are the result of repeating various stages of the research and design phases multiple amounts of times. This enables you to refine the design as much as possible until you reach the best design. The earliest stages are most often repeated. For example, you may need to do some initial research before you are able to more specific research. Also you may need to go back and research something that was not considered before, after certain points have been made in prototype feedback sessions.
For example, in our homework planner example, you may have identified that good looking cover designs are an important aspect in creating motivation to use the planner, however, further research may be needed to understand what styles students like. You may also have created prototypes which you have received feedback on. It’s important that this feedback is utilised and you remove any pain points by going back to designing again (use roses, buds and thorns).
SCAMPER is an acronym which stands for: Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to other uses, Eliminate and Rearrange. These words are helpful to keep in mind when coming up with designs as the keywords might just trigger an idea that leads the way to a winning design. SCAMPER is particularly useful after conducting roses, buds and thorns as buds can be improved by some of these keyword methods and thorns can be removed. In the homework planner example, you may find that these keywords help you when conducting rapid sketching e.g. coming up with alternate page layouts. These layouts could then be prototyped and put to a focus group.
9. Use a mix of qualitative and quantitative research techniques
Quantitative data is concerned with measurable and numeric data. For instance, in our example this could be things like: How many pieces of homework does the average student get?, How many subjects do students take?, What percentage of people prefer spiral-bound books over glued? and What percentage of students use planners? On the other hand, qualitative data is information that can’t be measured such as the answers to questions like: Why do you prefer spiral-bound notebooks?, What is the layout of your current homework planner and what do you like and dislike about it? By asking a range of both quantitative and qualitative questions, a rich pool of information can be gathered.
It is important to note however, that open-ended questions such as those asked to obtain qualitative data, should be kept to a minimum in surveys as respondents are not likely to want to write an essay for you which could result in you missing out in obtaining important information. These questions are best asked verbally during an interview or focus group session.
10. Validate all of your assumptions
You will rarely be the target audience of who you are developing the product for. It is therefore essential that you notice when your designs are being influenced by your personal preferences as these are unlikely to be what your end-users would like. To prevent this from happening, you should make sure that any knowledge you have about your target end-users can be backed up by your research. If it can been backed up by your research, however designs made using that information are receiving poor feedback, you may find that your research was unintentionally biased or you found an edge case.
These top ten UX research and design methods should give your user-centred product designs a boost. Happy designing!